We start Daylight Savings Time again this week in most of the United States. This semiannual ritual is a nuisance (springing forward costs us an hour of sleep) or a blessing (falling back lets us catch up on rest at least a little), depending on where we are in the cycle. If it affects people one way or the other, the Saturday night/Sunday morning switch is definitely in the nuisance category.
While the loss of an hour’s sleep Saturday night likely is harder on overworked caregivers than on most people, it can be even more taxing on those we serve. Sleep problems already are a struggle for many older people, and an additional disruption to their schedules can be more than a little inconvenience.
Most of us are familiar with the common advice for changing time settings or time zones when we travel, and those all apply here. It’s always a good idea to adapt the new clock settings and adjust our sleep and wake schedule and meal intakes as quickly as possible. But there are some specific steps to make the transition a smoother experience for older loved ones.
Sleep patterns: As I said, these are a concern for all of us, but if your caregiving partner likes naps during the day, make sure he or she maintains that schedule as well. Over napping to make up for the short overnight just prolongs the adjustment time and any accompanying disorientation.
Driving: This goes for caregivers as well, but nobody is as safe behind the wheel when they’re sleepy. Some studies have looked at whether traffic accidents, and in particular fatal accidents, increase significantly following the start of Daylight Savings Time. Whether a cause-and-effect relationship is there, or if other factors play a role, it’s always a good idea to check our own readiness – and that of those in our care – before we take to the roads.
Meal times: It can be a struggle to convince an independent adult to take a meal when they’re not hungry, but skipping the breakfast or lunch routine even for a day or two can encourage other eating decisions throughout the day that we’d prefer not prolong the adjustment period. Even if you decide to go with lighter fare for the first couple of meals, maintain the regular pattern as closely as possible. It’s also important for the individual to pay close attention to blood sugar level throughout the day, if that applies, and maintain prescribed insulin schedules as directed by a physician.
Medication times: Taking prescribed medicines and performing other doctor-directed activities at the appropriate times throughout the day is an important part of any health and wellness care plan. Some directives, like taking a specific medication at meal times, may be easy enough to adjust, but many of those in our care rely on electronic medical reminders throughout the day. Make sure the time is adjusted appropriately on this equipment to avoid getting off schedule. Many will update automatically, but it’s better to confirm than take a chance.
Timers: Speaking of timers, in modern homes, many more devices have built-in clocks than ever before. Things like phones and television tuners often update automatically, but others like light timers, cook timers, coffee makers, video recorders may not. If it’s important to your loved one’s routine, it’s probably important enough to double check.
Battery check: The American Red Cross and other safety officials also remind us that the semiannual time change is a good time to test and replace the batteries in smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors and other safety equipment.
Whether you love the extended daylight in the warmer months or wish they’d just leave our sleep schedules alone, the time still changes with the season. We, and those we care for, can adjust with as little disruption as possible with a little thought and preparation.